My mother gave me an acorn squash the other day. She is the epitome of a true Southern Lady, and a wonderful cook, but I don’t remember her cooking acorn squash when I was growing up in north Florida. We moved to New York City when I was 12 and our meals took on a more adventurous flair. Shopping for food in the big city was an exciting event. The local markets were full of foods I had never seen or eaten, and restaurants offered much more intriguing menus than I could imagine.
Everything we could ever want was right there in our neighborhood. There were Jewish delis with fresh bagels, challah bread, rugelach, corned beef on freshly baked rye bread, and matzah ball soup. The vegetable markets had all the usual corn, potatoes, and string beans, but they also had fascinating purple broccoli, colorful heirloom tomatoes, starfruit and dragon fruit. There were butcher shops with foie gras (goose or duck liver), whole sides of beef, pork and lamb, pheasants and rabbit sausage. Chinese markets where you could purchase huge whole fish or just the fish heads, sardines that weren’t in tins, dried shrimp and oysters, five spice powder and star anise pods. Indian markets, Hispanic markets. New York City is truly a melting pot. Every culture was represented, and we tried them all.
My mother is adventurous and she readily took on the challenge of cooking wonderful new meals. We had fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce, pomegranates, lox and bagels, and cheese and spices from all over the world, I was exposed to Japanese dishes when she joined a Japanese-American women’s organization. Her tempura was to die for..
Growing up, my mother was shooed out of the kitchen while my grandmother cooked. She will laugh and tell you that when she married my dad, he had to teach her how to scramble an egg. But she learned, and became an amazing cook.
I spent a lot of time in the kitchen when I was growing up. I loved to watch as mom prepared a simple meatloaf or something more complex like stuffed artichokes. She taught me how to cut up a whole chicken and how to bake, broil and fry it. Using my grandmother’s recipes, she taught me how to make a perfect cake from scratch, how to choose a ripe cantaloupe, and how to peel back the husk to make sure an ear of corn was going to be perfect. She was a wonderful teacher, and very patient.
I started out with an acorn squash and ended up going down memory lane. Back to the squash. They are so beautiful, and come in many colors. I love to use them as table decorations, and they are also an amazingly versatile vegetable. Acorn squash are perfect simply baked, brushed with a little butter and a sprinkle of salt. They are also wonderful containers for just about any kind of stuffing you can imagine.
I cooked one the other night and it was a perfect meal in and of itself. The hardest part of cooking an acorn squash is just cutting it in half. Make sure you have a very sharp knife. I like to score the outside before cutting into the squash to try for equal halves. You can cut it from top to bottom, or you can cut it like I did by cutting off a slice from each end and then cutting the squash in the center.
The seeds and pithy strings need to be scooped out. I usually use a grapefruit spoon with a serrated edge to get it all, but just a regular tablespoon works well. The seeds can be saved and roasted like pumpkin seeds.
Parchment paper or foil are helpful to line the bottom of your baking dish, or even cooking spray, to keep the squash from sticking to the pan.
You can go either sweet or savory with an acorn squash, and I chose a little of both this time. I drizzled both halves with pure cane syrup, produced here in Florida. You can use maple syrup instead, or melted butter. My stuffing contained lean ground turkey, quinoa, onion, bell pepper, carrots, breadcrumbs, parsley, salt and pepper and Old St Augustine Datil Zest Seasoning.
They were topped during the last few minutes of baking, with freshly grated cheese, I used Asiago, but you can use any cheese you like.
My kitchen smelled amazing! And when they came out of the oven, the squash were absolutely beautiful. Served with a simple side salad, these acorn squash were delicious and nutritious. The perfect winter meal.
Jamaican Jerk Acorn Squash with Turkey and Quinoa Stuffing
This is just one of many stuffing recipes you can use with acorn squash. Try substituting your favorite.
Baking dish with sides, large enough to hold the acorn squash halves
Large frying pan or skillet
Parchment paper, foil or cooking spray
2 quart saucepan with lid
Fine mesh strainer
Microplane or grater for the cheese
- 3 acorn squash
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup pure cane syrup or maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon Old St Augustine Datil Zest
- 1 pound lean ground turkey or you can substitute 1 pound of lean ground beef For a vegetarian version, use a can of black beans, drained and rinsed, for the meat.)
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to saute the meat and vegetables
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 medium bell pepper chopped
- 1/2 cup carrots chopped or shredded
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
- 1 teaspoon Old St Augustine Datil Zest
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup quinoa
Prepare the Acorn Squash:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Line a baking dish with parchment paper or foil.
Cut off a small slice from each end of the squash so it will stand up straight and then cut it through the center.
Scoop out the seeds and place each squash in the prepared baking dish..
Brush the inside of each of the cut halves as well as the outside skin with olive oil.
Drizzle the cane or maple syrup inside each of the squash halves and sprinkle with the Old St Augustine Datil Zest Seasoning.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes and remove from the oven.
For the Quinoa:
Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse with cold water for 1-2 minutes, then allow to drain.
In a medium saucepan, bring the 2 cups of water to a rolling boil.
Stir in the quinoa
Lower heat to simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.
Remove the lid. Fluff the quinoa gently with a fork, and serve.
For the Stuffing:
In the frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add the meat.
Saute until the meat is no longer pink.
Add in the onions, bell peppers and carrots, and saute for 3-5 more minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the onions are transparent.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked qinoa and the meat mixture.
Stir in the breadcrumbs, parsley, sliced almonds and 1 teaspoon of Old St Augustine Datil Zest.
Loosely pack the stuffing mixture into the acorn squash shells and cover with foil.
Bake for 20 minutes and remove foil.
Top each squash with the shredded cheese and return to the oven for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
Serve as a main course with a side salad.